Research and prototyping into the underground fabrication of a mycelium chair
Mycology is the study of fungi and only recently has it been recognized as its own branch of biology. As science catches up, we are only beginning to scratch the surface in understanding the indispensable role fungi have in our ecosystems. Mycelium is the hidden part of the fungus, it is everything that lies below ground—a mass of interwoven filaments that have the ability to decompose organic matter, regenerate soils, and contribute to ecosystem biodiversity.
For some years mycelium has been used in design to make new bio-circular materials in a process known as myco-fabrication. While myco-fabrication is a promising alternative to traditional linear industrial fabrication methods, Aléa recognized a disparity between how mycelium is used in design and its role in the ecosystem. Typically, in design mycelium is grown isolated in a sterile setting, while in its natural environment the organism thrives on the diversity of the soil and relationships. It is in this disconnect that Miriam Josi and Stella Lee Prowse identified an opportunity to expand on myco-fabrication by integrating the full potential of mycelia into the fabrication process. Instead of isolating the organism, ‘Back to Dirt’ aims to embrace its interrelationships in order to imagine new ways of making that benefit the other-than-human.
The research began with Aléa’s discovery that soil could be used as a mold to grow objects with mycelium. By introducing mycelium back into the soil, the organism thrives in its instinctive environment, bypassing typical steps of myco-fabrication, such as sterilization, additional energy and finite plastic molds. The mycelia’s capacity to regenerate soils and reintroduce biodiversity thus becomes a co-benefit to a more integrated method of myco-fabrication.
The Residency Award of Domaine de Boisbuchet gave Aléa the opportunity to apply their reimagined process at full scale, where they grew the first underground myco-fabricated chair in October 2021.
As laureates of FAIRE 2021, Josi and Lee Prowse had the opportunity to develop their process and apply it to the context of Paris. By sourcing various local soil samples and locally abundant waste streams as substrates, they explored the opportunity for a middle ground, somewhere in between the outdoors and the laboratory.
‘Back to Dirt’ questions the tools, processes and environments we work with when collaborating with living systems. The project raises the question of the ways in which control can be shared between the designer and material, between the human and non-human, in order to imagine place-based regenerative methods of fabrication.
Aléa – Miriam Josi & Stella Lee Prowse
Aléa is an experimental design and material research studio based in Paris. Miriam Josi (from Switzerland) and Stella Lee Prowse (from Australia) cofounded Aléa in 2021 after both completing a Master’s degree in Nature-Inspired Design at ENSCi - Les Ateliers Paris. Their work employs the process of growth and decay while challenging prevailing notions of waste and resource, material temporalities, value, ethics and aesthetics. Aléa’s practice is situated at the intersections of design, biology, and agriculture, blurring the boundaries between disciplines.